At 71 years old, Stephen Hawking is the oldest survivor of ALS, a motor neuron disease. Despite being diagnosed with ALS at age 21, Hawking has defied the odds to continue living and become an extremely productive member of the scientific community. Hawking’s work in physics has led to advanced discoveries with the general relativity, black holes, and various areas of quantum mechanics – most of which has brought forth more questions than answers. Perhaps that is why one should not be surprised to hear Hawking lament the fact that the Higgs boson particle was discovered last July.
In speaking to an audience at London’s Science Museum, Hawking opined that “Physics would be far more interesting if it [the Higgs boson particle] had not been found.” By discovering the “God particle”, scientists have fixed
the final a chink in the armor of the Standard Model of physics, a theory which attempts to integrate the four fundamental forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces – into one unified theory explaining all of known physics in the universe.
What the discovery of the Higgs boson immediately means is that physicists now know what gives subatomic particles (things such as electrons and quarks) mass, the property which allows said particles to interact with other particles in the way they do to form atoms and more complex molecules. The idea of the Higgs boson particle was first put forth by scientists in the 1960’s, but no experimental evidence existed for the particle until the findings of the Large Hadron Collider last July.
While Hawking may believe that the discovery of the Higgs boson makes physics less interesting, he is still pursuing many interesting avenues of research. Hawking is one of the primary proponents of M-theory, a theory which integrates all the versions of string theory into one vision. One aspect of M-theory is that it allows for and encourages scientists to consider the fact that we exists in a multi-dimensional and multiverse world, all of which exist through the laws of physics and are not dependent upon a “creator”:
“These multiple universes can arise naturally from physical law. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like the present, long after their creation. Most of these states will be quite unlike the universe we observe, and quite unsuitable for the existence of any form of life. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist.Thus, our presence selects out from the vast array only those universes that are compatible with our existence. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the Cosmos, this makes us, in a sense, lords of creation,” states Hawking.
In order for further progress to be made with the M-theory, certain other discoveries must be made first, discoveries which Hawking hopes can be found using the LHC: “There is still hope that we see the first evidence for M-theory at the LHC particle accelerator in Geneva. From an M-theory perspective, the collider only probes low energies, but we might be lucky and see a weaker signal of fundamental theory, such as supersymmetry. I think the discovery of supersymmetric partners for the known particles would revolutionise our understanding of the universe,” voiced Hawking.
Supersymmetry is a theory which states that all particles have a superpartner particle with the exact opposite properties. If this LHC could help find proof of this theory, then progress would be made toward solidifying the M-theory as the prevalent universe model.
Until that point is reached, however, Hawking leaves us with some advice as to how to protect the existence of the human race: “So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and hold on to that child-like wonder about what makes the universe exist.”
[Image via Stephen Hawking’s Website]